The Project ENABLE website provides librarians with comprehensive information and training on disability issues that they might face in their libraries.

By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

Public and academic librarians across the United States now have a comprehensive, easily accessible, hands-on informational resource to help them increase their competence and confidence to provide high-quality services to people with disabilities.

Project ENABLE (Expanding Nondiscriminatory Access By Libraries Everywhere) recently launched a web site that provides librarians a broad scope of information on an array of disabilities topics, according to Dr. Ruth V. Small, a School of Information Studies (iSchool) Meredith Professor and Director of the iSchool’s Center for Digital Literacy. In addition to describing types of disabilities, the site helps librarians learn about assistive technologies; become aware of laws and policies governing disability services in schools and libraries; see steps they can take in their own libraries to provide high-quality services to people with autism, ADHD, and other disabilities; and assess their knowledge of those topics.

Broad Information Base 

It’s a unique resource because the site offers comprehensive information and training on disability issues that librarians would be hard pressed to find elsewhere, said Dr. Small. “Most states are ill-equipped to do the kind of in-service training for librarians that they typically do for teachers. Some is the same, but a lot is different; librarians provide unique programs, resources and services and those programs, resources, and services need to be accessible and inclusive,” she noted.

In their settings, librarians “may see one or two people in a wheelchair and think they don’t have very many people who have disabilities visit their libraries, but they may be unaware of many invisible disabilities–such as learning, vision, and hearing disabilities, Dr. Small explained. “Given that 20% of the population has some sort of disability, if you have 20 [people]…it’s most likely that four have some sort of disability,” she illustrated. “It’s a startling statistic.”

The web site is the third phase of a project spearheaded by Dr. Small, along with co-principal investigator William Myhill, M.Ed., J.D., director of legal research and writing at the Burton Blatt Institute and an adjunct professor of law at Syracuse. Earlier phases included research and face-to-face teaching. In the last four years, three program phases have been successively funded by grants from the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grants program, administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Five Learning Modules

The Project ENABLE web site offers five major learning modules: Disability Awareness; Disability Law & Policy; Creating an Accessible Library; Planning Inclusive Programs and Instruction; and Assistive Technology in Libraries.The site also has a number of unique features:

  • Customization of information presented to the user by type of library setting (school, academic, public) and state (currently only for Florida, Illinois, and New York).
  • Individuals may register for the training or an instructor can register a class or group to participate in the training. Training is free.
  • Initial and final assessments, consisting of 30 questions drawn randomly from a pool of 300 that assess knowledge in all areas covered by the training (providing immediate feedback and demonstrating learning).
  • The ability to keep notes throughout the training and save them for reference.
  • A module that shows types of assistive technology, the role librarians can play in selecting and using assistive technology, and information on creating their own accessible web sites.

About 1400 Reached

About 300 educators (including 100 librarians) have been trained in person and another 1,000-plus have signed up for training through the site thus far. Dr. Small plans to conduct a small survey this spring to obtain initial data from a sample of those individuals. She also plans to apply for additional funding to conduct a full-scale study of the impact of Project ENABLE training, not only on librarians, but also on those they serve. The goal is to determine whether there is a difference in the way librarians serve people with disabilities when they have had training, versus when they haven’tand whether those differences affect use of the library and its resources and services by people with disabilities.  

“I’m overjoyed by the success of the project, but I think we have a lot of work to do,” the professor said. “There are still a lot of people who have never heard of Project ENABLE; and there are still librarians who don’t necessarily see that this is an important issue.”

The project first received IMLS funding in 2010 to develop provide training to 45 teams of school librarians, general educators and special educators in New York State. A second phase was funded for $257,973 in 2012 that provided in-person training for 30 more teams nationwide and to build the training web site. The last phase received $253,715 in 2013 to create a unique form of customized web training for school, public and academic librarians nationwide.